That’s the minimum annual salary that any player will make in the National Football League in 2014. And that’s just for a rookie player: veteran minimums range from $495,000 a year to $955,000 a year depending on their level of experience. And all of these figures will go up each season until at least 2018.
So you can certainly argue that NFL players, even though their bodies are subject to serious punishment, are grossly overpaid – if you measure their worth in terms of societal benefit rather than by market demand. But in most cases, players’ salaries are based upon their estimated future output; which is largely determined by their past performance, which may or may not reflect what a player will achieve during their contract tenure.
In other words, NFL compensation carries a certain degree of unpredictability with it. As a result, you wind up with some players getting contracts that turn out to massively overestimate their worth. These fortunate individuals are often to considered to be overpaid – even by the NFL’s skewed standards.
Here are 20 of the most overpaid athletes in the NFL, based on what they will earn in 2014:
20. Tony Romo – QB, Dallas Cowboys: $11.773 Million
The Cowboys’ number nine has the eighth-biggest average salary contract in the NFL this year, which is his ninth season as Dallas’ starter under center. But fans are still wondering whether Romo is the guy to lead the ‘Boys back to glory. Apologists point to his impressive stats over the last several years and allege that Dallas would have been even worse off without him. However, the Cowboys only have one playoff win under Romo’s tenure, and they’ve been stuck on 8-8 for the past three seasons; all of which ended with a missed chance at a playoff berth (though Romo was injured in last year’s season-ending loss and did not play). So given Romo’s inconsistency and niggling back issues, is he really worth an eight-figure salary?
19. Joique Bell – RB, Detroit Lions: $2.3 Million
Compared to some NFL contracts, this may not sound like a lot of money. But Bell is in the top 10% salary-wise of anyone at his position despite delivering a performance last season which placed him only 32nd in the NFL in yards gained with 650. A big reason is that he backs up the more talented Reggie Bush. Bell averaged five yards a rush in 2012, but saw that figure drop to 3.9 last year Nevertheless, Detroit inked a new deal with him in the off-season in the hopes that Bell might be the heir apparent to Bush, who is entering his ninth season.
18. Taylor Lewan – OL, Tennessee Titans: $2.088 Million
No one is questioning Lewan’s ability (though his senior season at Michigan wasn’t exceptional); that’s why Tennessee selected him as the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft. It’s his conduct off the field that has Titans fans a little uneasy. Most recently, he was charged with aggravated assault and two misdemeanor counts of assault for allegedly slugging an Ohio State fan after the Wolverines’ loss to the Buckeyes in November. He’ll spend his 2014 bye week back in Michigan for that trial. So the Titans are paying a lot of money for a projected backup lineman with a checkered past.
17. Joe Haden – CB, Cleveland Browns: $12.128 Million
This isn’t about Haden’s prowess on the corner. It’s about awarding a five-year $67.5 million contract extension to a player at that position who is very arguably not the best in the NFL. Even if Haden were the ultimate shutdown corner, is it really worth chewing up salary cap space for one player on a 4-12 team? After all, Cleveland could use that money to shore up their entire roster, not just one spot on the defensive side of the ball.
16. Dennis Pitta – TE, Baltimore Ravens: $3.2 Million
There’s a certain school of thought that believes the highest salaries should go to the players who perform the best when their team needs it the most – namely, the NFL playoffs. Pitta certainly has done that, with 21 catches, four touchdowns, and 15 first downs in six postseason contests spanning 2011 and 2012. But despite the fact that he’s never been an All-Pro, the BYU product received a five-year, $32 million contract extension in March. If Baltimore doesn’t make the postseason and Pitta continues to underwhelm during regular season, this deal could turn out to be a head-scratcher.
15. Matt Schaub – QB, Oakland Raiders: $8 Million
It must be nice to play eight games in a season, get benched for an undrafted free agent, and then sign a two-year contract with another team the following year. That was Schaub’s life in a nutshell last season with the Texans. Granted, he played behind some porous offensive lines in Houston; but he still tossed 78 picks and lost 37 fumbles in seven years there. He was the league’s 32nd-highest rated quarterback last season, but will receive the 12th-highest base salary among signal-callers in 2014. But then, it’s the Raiders who inked this deal, which explains a lot.
14. Jonathan Stewart – RB, Carolina Panthers: $4.585 Million
It’s a mystery as to why Stewart is pulling in this much bank in 2014. The Oregon alum did amass almost 2,000 yards during his first two seasons in a Carolina uniform, but has failed to reach the 800-yard mark in any of the last four. To make matters worse, Stewart has become a fixture in the trainer’s room, especially in the preseason. After missing 17 games in the last two seasons due to injury, he’s already nursing a hamstring injury in the Panthers’ training camp this year. He’s now mainly the backup for DeAngelo Williams, and his contract doesn’t expire until at least 2017.
13. Percy Harvin – WR, Seattle Seahawks: $13.4 Million
Sure, Harvin is capable of making some big plays. But he’s gotta be on the field in order to accomplish that instead of putting down roots on injured reserve. In his final year in Minnesota, Harvin missed seven games due to hamstring and ankle injuries. Nevertheless, Seattle inked Harvin to a six-year, $64.25 million contract extension in March of ’13. How did Percy respond? By suffering a hip injury and playing in just one regular season game for Seattle last season. He did play in the Seahawks’ first playoff game, but then suffered a concussion and missed the NFC Championship. And he’s already missed some preseason practices this season. He did have a huge game in the Super Bowl, but that’s still a lot of money to wear street clothes on the sidelines.
12. Brandon Carr – CB, Dallas Cowboys: $12.217 Million
It seemed so long ago when Dallas touted their defensive coup by signing Carr as a free agent in March of 2012. That’s because last year, Carr became a punching bag for NFL receivers, allowing 936 yards on 68 catches. In other words, he’s getting paid like a shutdown corner but giving up over four receptions a game, allowing 13.8 yards a catch, missing almost a tackle per came, and surrendering an average of over five yards after each catch. Dallas fans are desperately hoping that last year was an anomaly; otherwise, they’re on the hook until at least after 2015 for his contract.
11. Ray Rice – RB, Baltimore Ravens: $8.75 Million
Even without his recent domestic abuse scandal that earned him a two-game suspension in 2014, Rice might have still made this list. That’s because he recorded arguably the biggest dropoff in performance between 2012 and 2013 in the entire league. After posting 1,143 yards, nine touchdowns, and 4.4 yards a carry in ’12, Rice managed just 660 yards, four TDs, and 3.1 yards a carry last year. Thankfully for Rice, he signed his $35 million, five-year contract at the height of the running back market. But he could become a major liability going forward for the Ravens.
10. Joe Flacco – QB, Baltimore Ravens: $14.8 Million
What’s that? He’s got a Super Bowl ring and impressive numbers, yet he’s on this list? That’s right – and he’ll probably be on it for the next few years, too. Why? Because his contract allows him to collect a mind-boggling $99 million from 2015 through 2018 when he’s in his 30s. And given that he posted career-worsts in interceptions (22) and QB rating (73.1) in 2013, you might be able to argue that Flacco’s best years are behind him. Even if he does improve this year, will his performance still justify almost $100 million for the following four years?
9. David Harris – ILB, New York Jets: $7 Million
Harris represents the classic overpaid contract mistake made by many teams: paying elite money for an average player. He’s decent at rushing the quarterback and he has solid fundamentals. But he has only five sacks in the last two years to go with zero interceptions. So it’s curious that the Jets have put him in the top ten at his position in terms of 2014 compensation. Unless his play improves dramatically this year, don’t expect Harris to stay in New York if he wants to avoid taking a drastic pay cut.
8. James Laurinaitis – ILB, St. Louis Rams: $10.4 Million
Same song, second verse. After being the Rams’ Rookie of the Year in 2009, Laurinaitis has been consistently mediocre – which is what you can’t have in a defensive leader if you want to win football games. The former Ohio State star benefited from St. Louis’ failure to find anyone to replace him, so they signed him to a $41.5 million contract extension. Last season, Laurinaitis was miserable on run defense and missed almost a tackle a game from his linebacker spot. Don’t be surprised if the Rams cut him (and save $3.2 million) after the upcoming season.
7. Ndamukong Suh – DT , Detroit Lions: $22.412 Million
Certainly, Suh has a propensity to rack up fines. But his antics aren’t the main reason why his name appears on this list. It’s because Suh will earn more than any other Lion this season – including quarterback Matthew Stafford, wideout Calvin Johnson, and running back Reggie Bush. And it’s over twice as much as any other player at his position in the NFL. To make matters even worse, it’s the final year of his contract, which states that if the front office and Suh cannot reach an agreement, Detroit will be saddled with over $9.7 million in dead money – which is more than the current amount for the majority of NFL teams. Simply put, the Lions have bitten off more they can chew with Suh.
6. Marcedes Lewis – TE, Jacksonville Jaguars: $8.25 Million
If you looked up “contract year performance” in the NFL dictionary, you might see Lewis’ face next to the entry. To see why, let’s look at his 2010 numbers: 58 catches, 700 yards, 10 touchdowns. Now, his per-year average for his seven other seasons: 34.1 catches, 411.9 yards, 2.1 touchdowns. Guess which season was his contract year? After 2010’s performance, he signed a five-year, $34 million deal – and then promptly reverted to his old form. He’ll be the fourth-highest paid tight end in the league this season, and he’s under contract through 2015. Life is good in Lewis land.
5. James Casey – RB, Philadelphia Eagles: $3.985 Million
Unless you’re from Philly, you might be saying, “Who?” Exactly. You’ve never heard of him because he was on the field for about 14% of the Eagles’ offensive snaps last year. That was in the first year of a three-year, $12 million contract. Granted, he’s one of these “versatile” players that can be an H-back or an extra tight end – if you actually insert him into the game. But it’s pretty apparent that he didn’t fit in with Chip Kelly’s new offense last year. And just under $4 million is a lot to pay a guy who’s primarily a special teamer.
4. Greg Jennings – WR, Minnesota Vikings: $7 Million
It’s true that Jennings had some banner years in Green Bay, notching over 1,100 yards receiving each season between 2008 and 2010. But in 2011 he injured his ACL and missed three games, then missed half of two seasons ago due to injuries. So what do you do with an injury-prone player who will turn 31 this season? Sign him to a five-year contract which raises his annual salary to $11 million a year between 2015 and 2017! And pair him with a quarterback who may be OK (Christian Ponder) but will never hold a candle to Aaron Rodgers (his QB when he was with the Packers). What could possibly go wrong?
3. Sebastian Janikowski – K, Oakland Raiders: $3.06 Million
In what universe would the highest-paid kicker also be the worst kicker in a particular season? Why, the NFL in 2013, of course! Nobody missed more field goals last season than Janikowski, and his 70% field goal conversion percentage was lower than any other starting kicker in the league. And even though Janikowski has never been the NFL’s best placekicker in any one season, the Raiders nevertheless signed him to a contract extension last year that gave him the largest salary in the league among kickers. This will be his 15th season, leading many to believe that Janikowski simply will never, ever die.
2. Mike Wallace – WR, Miami Dolphins: $17.25 Million
Wallace notches the penultimate spot on this list because he will earn more cash than any other wideout this season – even though 27 other receivers amassed more yards than he did in 2013. Earlier in his career, the Ole Miss product put up some nice numbers in Pittsburgh’s system catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger. But Miami seemed to think that he was their next marquis receiver when they signed him to a five-year, $60 million deal after the 2012 season. Here’s the problem: Wallace can be a deep threat, but Dolphins’ QB Ryan Tannehill has trouble throwing deep. Oops.
1. Eli Manning – QB, New York Giants: $20.4 Million
It’s funny: had Manning had even an average year in 2013, he probably would not have been tapped for this list. But as we all know, the Giants QB tossed more picks than any other player since 2005 and completed only 57.5 percent of his passes, which was less than any starting quarterback not named Geno Smith. After his Super Bowl year in 2011, Manning’s numbers slumped a little in 2012 before plunging last season. So the fact that he’s slated to make $20 million-plus this year at age 33 (when most QBs start to decline anyway) makes him the most overpaid player in the NFL in 2014. Unless he returns to 2011 form – in which case, never mind.
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